Hustling Marrakesh & Blissful Atlas Mountains
Recently Morocco has been a popular destination, with many travelling there and posting plenty of photos on the souks. I've been to Morocco in 2014 during my my birthday weekend and I wanted to spend my BDay somewhere "out there travelling". I opened the cheap flight website and found tickets to Marrakesh for £19.99! Bargain! (well I'm lucky my birthday month is December and the flights are usually cheap)
I didn't think twice and book the tickets as well as Riad, wanted to stay as 'close to real culture' as possible. I found this excellent Riad that had great reviews plus it was run by a woman - I really wanted to support female boss! All well, I knew it was not in the centre of the town and you needed a short walk to get to the Medina (city centre). I was fine with that. To book this fabulous Riad click here.
Photo: Breakfast on the roof of our Riad
My friend and I arrived at the stunning airport in Marrakesh (did you know that this airport was used to film SATC 2 movie?, although in a movie it is said it is Abu Dabi airport :-) ) where we were picked by our driver who was arranged by our Riad. Walking towards the car, and seeing it made me think whether this was really our car? Well, it was! It reminded me of a small light truck produced in Poland between 50s and 90s last century called FSC Żuk (check the Internet for details and photo if you are not familiar). Additionally our driver did not speak much English, and we did not know Arabic beyond "thank you". However we boarded the car and decided to see what happens next.
Once we crossed the Old City walls, we were driving through narrow streets with no sight of hotels, or guest houses. It certainly looked very local, which we wanted, but the district gave us shivers. I said to my friend "what if we are being kidnapped?" Ewa then said "let's run away!" to which I said "my passport is in my hand luggage at the back of the car". This sentence makes us laugh till today.
Photo: View of Marrakesh main square from Cafe De France
The car stopped, in the middle of the cross roads and our driver happily announced that we arrived. With confused faces we got off in the hustle & bustle of the street and people passing by, and checking these two tourist girls out. Our driver took our luggage and gesticulated to follow him. I said to Ewa let's just follow him and see, hoping it was not an organised kidnap. What happened next was a total surprise.
There was this small door that did look like a back door to somewhere... a house, a kitchen or utility room. He opened the small black door,and in front of our eyes we saw a beautiful smiley face of Sara our host. We entered the Riad, and it was so beautiful, seeing all that beauty we forgot about our conspiracy theory of kidnapping. We were greeted with a Moroccan tea and sweets, sat in the main area and chatted with Sara who was the owner of the Riad. This Riad is essentially her family's house, and at the time we visited some of her family members still lived there.
Photo: Tourist in Marrakesh
Sara gave us tips on how to get to Medina, how to behave in Marrakesh and not draw attention to ourselves. She really cared about our safety and wanted to make sure we had great time in Marrakesh as two female travellers. We really benefited from her tips as we were 'harassed' plenty of times on our way to Medina but we knew how to fence that attention away thanks to Sara tips.
The Riad was fabulous and we had an amazing breakfast on the rooftop next morning. Having all the delicious food together with a beautiful sunshine on our faces and rooftop views was such a great experience in itself in the middle of December.
The breakfast set us up for a fabulous day! We were sightseeing Marrakesh on a hop on and off bus, visited mosques and wondered in the souk. We arrived at the Cafe de France which probably remembered French colonization days. As it was recommended as place to visit we went there for food. As we were looking for authentic cuisine, we choose Tagine (type of slow cooked stew). It was okay. The restaurant had great views of the Medina, but it was a bit dirty with sticky tables and it looked a bit like a tourist trap, I would not recommend to go there, unless for for the great views of Medina. From this spot we watched the sunset, and people on the square. I would recommend this place for views, but maybe not for food.
Photo: On the road - on our way to Atlas Mountains
Overall, Marrakesh was a tiring experience to me, not by hectic schedule but by all the attention that we received from the locals and us trying to avoid this. The shouting, hissing etc. I know it's part of the culture and I understand that but I came across similar behaviour in Egypt and Tunisia and did not feel so overwhelmed with the attention. My friend who also went to Turkey, said that she thought Turkey was hard-core but after our trip to Marrakesh she said this was worst. I don't want to discourage you from going, I'm just sharing my feelings and those who travelled with me.
After a great night sleep in a huge comfy bed, next day we escaped for a day to Atlas Mountains, which again Sara recommended. We initially wanted to do a dessert tour but there was a flood and we could not get there. We had a guide who picked us up from Marrakesh drove us to Atlas mountains, took us on a quite a demanding hike, as well as showed us some great mountain's views and many beautiful waterfalls. The hike in itself took us probably half a day and it was so worth it. It was so peaceful in the mountains and proximity to nature made this day trip one to remember. I enjoyed this day more than Marrakesh if you ask for my opinion.
Photo: The strenuous hike was rewarded with many beautiful waterfalls
After quite a strenuous hike, we were rewarded at the top of the mountain with a makeshift tea house and a tea with a great view. During our hike down the hill we came across some local shoppers who were selling locally crafted goods for tourist. All beautiful and hand made by barber villagers in Morocco. And so I purchased a necklace.
On our drive back to Marrakesh we also stopped at the women cooperative which is an organisation to help women to have paid jobs. They were making organic products from argan , almonds and other local herbs and produce to create natural beauty products. I bought argan hair oil and it's the best hair product I owned in my life! Hands down. There was also one more stop at the pottery house, again everything you (don't) need for your household in vibrant colours all from organic natural herbs. Again I ended up with sugar bowl coloured by saffron.
Photo: Inside women's cooperative with natural products which are superb in quality!
Overall, Marrakesh has been a great city to explore but Atlas Mountains won my heart. I'd love to go back to visit Fez, Casablanca, and Agadir but I am not sure if I would return to Marrakesh as my first choice. Perhaps a nice spa experience would be in my thoughts.
I hope you enjoyed my view of Marrakesh and Morocco.